In this series, we talk to 13 industry leaders who have made the jump from Australia to NYC and are kicking it in their fields, from food to media and international advocacy. Here, restaurateur Rupert Noffs of The Lucky Bee, shares what it takes to make it in the city of dreams.
Company: The Lucky Bee is a much-buzzed-about farm-to-table Thai fusion restaurant on the Lower East Side that raises money for local New York beekeepers through its cocktail menu, which uses honey as an ingredient instead of syrup.
How did the idea for The Lucky Bee come about?
I co-founded the world’s first Australian-made sneaker label, called GIDEON, and I worked at the Ted Noffs Foundation [Rupert is the grandson of philanthropist Ted Noffs] for nine years. My partner, Matty Bennett, was a chef at Longrain in Sydney, then he left. When we arrived in New York he worked at The Fat Radish. We couch-surfed for a while [Rupert also worked with fashion PR Kelly Cutrone and lived at the People’s Republic offices for a while]. Gideon became an online business and there were major changes at Noffs Foundation. I’d come to a crossroads when Matty became a private chef and started talking to his colleague about opening a new restaurant. They wanted him as their chef and to write the menu and work for them while they made the money. He was too experienced for that. Matty and I decided to do it all ourselves and The Lucky Bee concept was born. That was four years ago.
One dude last week told me to ‘get f**ked’ then invited me for a beer to talk business. That’s New York for you.
Did you encounter any difficulties with getting a visa?
I wasn’t qualified for an E3 visa [for professional Australian nationals] because I don’t have a degree. I found an amazing immigration firm who said with all the press clippings I had from Australia I would qualify for an O-1 [for persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, and athletics or a considerable consideration to the film or television industry]. I got everything together – even a clip from a gossip columnist in Sydney with the words: “Rupert Noffs, Banned From The Red Carpet!” She actually helped me get my US visa!
What do you do on a daily basis?
The Lucky Bee only opened in January. It’s still a baby, but we have been named ‘one of the Hottest Restaurants in Manhattan’! I make sure all branding is in line with who we are, look after finances, marketing and PR, and general day-to-day running of the business. We were so green in the beginning – eight weeks after opening, we still didn’t have gas in our kitchen because there is so much red tape. You have to have a great sense of humour otherwise this city will spit you out. Someone hangs up on me once a week. Apparently that’s totally normal. One dude last week told me to ‘get f**ked’ then invited me for a beer to talk business. That’s New York for you.
Are there more opportunities for you in New York than Australia?
I love Australia dearly, but there are over 19 million people in New York. They say that if every local dined out every night for their whole life, they wouldn’t visit the same spot twice!
Where do you live in New York?
We live in the Lower East Side. It’s extremely vibrant and has such a rich cultural history with immigrants. That’s why we built The Lucky Bee here. Right now there’s still that grungy, dirty, downtown vibe which I love. The trash on the streets, the rats – but beautiful boutiques and restaurants are popping up all over the place, which is amazing. All good for business!